CDOT Launches New Online Clearinghouse: “Complete Streets Chicago”

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An image of the rehabbed Congress Parkway at Dearborn Street on the website.

The Chicago Department of Transportation has so many balls in the air nowadays when it comes to sustainable transportation and livable streets projects, it can be hard to wrap your head around all of them. The department’s recently launched Chicago Complete Streets web portal is good starting point for getting a handle on the many current initiatives and resources intended to promote safe, efficient and pleasant conditions for everyone on the street, not just drivers.

“The new website is part of recognizing that complete streets is a part of everything we do,” said Commissioner Gabe Klein. Earlier this year the department was reorganized, with a new “complete streets group,” headed by Project Director Janet Attarian, which combines most of the functions of CDOT’s bicycle, pedestrian and streetscaping sections.

“Nowadays we don’t feel like we need to have bike, ped, and transit projects broken out into separate sections,” Klein added. “But a lot of times people don’t know where to find information about our different programs, so the website consolidates the info.”

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Chicago's Bicycling Ambassadors with Alderman Walter Burnett. Photo: John Greenfield

The site is organized into four main sections. “Your Streets” includes links to design guidelines, plans and reports, pedestrian programs, bike facilities, the Make Way for People and Make Way for Play public space initiatives, off-street trails and more. “Your Safety” features programs like the Safe Routes and Bicycling Ambassadors, bike safety enforcement, the “It’s Up to You” safety campaign, and the child safety zones and traffic camera initiatives.

“Your Ride” includes info about bike maps, Divvy bike-share, bus rapid transit projects, and trip planners like Google Transit and the Regional Transit Authority’s GoRoo. And “Your Environment” features CDOT environmental initiatives like the Center for Green Technology and Greencorps, as well initiatives to promote the use of vehicles that run on alternative energy sources and sustainable infrastructure like water-permeable alleys.

Unlike other CDOT webpages, which look clunky and institutional, the new site, spearheaded by staffer Carlin Thomas, has a stylish, modern appearance, inspired by the several splashy-looking plans and reports consultant Sam Schwartz Engineering has put together for the department. “Our old website uses the standard city format but the Complete Streets site let us be a little more creative,” Klein said. “We hope it will encourage people to check out our design guidelines and plans and get more involved in the community input process.”

When I asked Klein whether his background in marketing played a role in the slick design of the new site, he replied that a lot of thought was given to making it user-friendly. “It’s always important to look at a project through the eyes of the customer,” he replied. “In this case it’s the Chicago residents that we’re here to serve. Our goal is to attract as many new people into the city as we can and keep existing residents as happy as possible. It’s that simple.”

  • What the ‘Your Streets’ section is conspicuously missing is two sections headed “Under Construction — building now!” and “Finished this year”. “Due next year” would be nice too, for things that are actually funded and going to happen. “Coming soon: have your say!” would also be nice for things that are currently being kicked around and in public meetings.

    Without them, http://chicagocompletestreets.org/your-streets/streetscapes-sustainable-design/ is a confusing jumble of proposed (who knows how actual it will ever be?) and finished stuff, light on detail or actual number of projects (really? 4? Where’s the Lawrence streetscape? Or, well, anything else?). Not at all what the press release touts — a way to keep track of what (awesome things) they’ve done lately, and what’s in the pipeline.

    I know content-creation takes a while, but a good-faith listing of projects (even if the details and pretty pictures are COMING SOON links) is necessary to keep this from looking like the worst kind of futile greenwash — is it greenwashing if it’s transparency instead of environmentalism? Clearwash? Acidwash?

  • I don’t agree that the website is a confusing jumble; I think it’s visually attractive and nicely laid out in a useful way. However, I do think that it needs an area that is consistently updated periodically with new “live” content in order to keep people coming back, and a very logical and useful area to cover would be information on past, present and upcoming projects, as you suggest. I’ve found the NYC Department of Planning website to be great in that regard, link below. It has snazzy stuff like interactive maps by borough. I realize that this takes manpower and that the NYC municipal staff is bigger than Chicago’s, but even if CDOT just started with basic information, it would be helpful.
    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dcp/html/subcats/studies.shtml

  • What I mean is, hypothetical projects (like Argyle) are in the same list with finished projects and under-construction ones, with no apparent order or ranking between them. Also, it’s really hard to see the ‘section-header’ information like the names of the projects because the pictures are so enormous and the text so universally small, bu tthat’s part of the “tablet-ization” of the web and isn’t going away anytime soon, alas. I suppose in 15 years I’ll get used to it just in time for them to change itagain. :->

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